Judy Ann Santos, Yuna Tangog
Judy Ann Santos, Yuna Tangog

Judy Ann Santos is one of the strongest contenders for the Best Actress award in the 45th edition of Metro Manila Film Festival. She plays a Muslim woman in “Mindanao,” which is directed by Brillante Mendoza, the first and still the only Filipino filmmaker to win Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival.

Written by Honee Alipio with Armando “Bing” Lao as the creative consultant, “Mindanao” marks the first time animation is included in a film directed by Mendoza. It features Santos as Saima Datupalo, a Muslim woman who is taking care of her cancer-stricken daughter Aisa Datupalo (Yuna Tangog) in a temporary home for children with cancer called the House of Hope in Davao.

At the House of Hope, Saima retells to Aisa the epic tale of warrior brothers Rajah and Sulayman fighting against the dragons Ginto and Pula, a story that mirrors the harrowing life in Mindanao. Allen Dizon plays Saima’s husband Malang Datupalo, a combat medic who is in an offensive operation in Maguindanao.

To play Saima in “Mindanao,” Santos had to learn how to perform a Muslim dance. She was trained by choreographer Al Bernard Velarde Garcia.

As a Christian actor, Santos did not find it difficult to play a Muslim character. Aside from having Muslim friends in real life, she said what made it easy was the guidance of Mendoza and Muslim cast and crew on the set of “Mindanao.”

Ketchup Eusebio, Epy Quizon, Richard Manabat, Kiko Matos and Jun Nayra play soldiers in “Mindanao.” Also in the cast are Vince Rillon, Ruby Ruiz, Chai Fonacier, Fe Saligumba, Perry Dizon, Nezzar Piti-Ilan, Vicky Ozawa, Emma Ressureccion, MJ Jacobo, Aileen Sahibad, Racma Caman Tonga, Abdulhakim Suare and Jenny Mondido.

Executive produced by Mendoza, “Mindanao” features Team App’s animation, Hiroyuki Ishizaka’s sound design and Teresa Barrozo’s music. Maan Chua also appears in the film as a singer, performing her original song “Itadyak.”

Prior to the MMFF 2019, “Mindanao” was screened in several international film festivals including the 24th Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival and the 41st Cairo International Film Festival in Egypt. The film earned Santos the Best Actress award in the 2019 Cairo International Film Festival.

Dubbed as the Philippines’ Father of Alternative Cinema, National Artist of the Philippines for Film Kidlat Tahimik was one of the special guests during the celebrity screening of “Mindanao” at The Podium in Mandaluyong City, Metro Manila on December 9, 2019. In an interview with Conan Daily during the event, he congratulated Mendoza for doing such a good job in pulling off such an ambitious project.

Along with the other seven MMFF 2019 entries, “Mindanao” will be screened in theaters all over the Philippines from December 25, 2019 to January 7, 2020. Here is the trailer:

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